1. Listening, empathy, emotions, conversational leadership

Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace

Article translated by dott. ssa Eleonora Brusamento Spinelli, CIELS Advanced Degree in Strategic Communication (“Laurea Magistrale in Comunicazione Strategica”), extracted with the author’s permission from the book “Active Listening and Empathy. The Secrets for Effective Communication” (original title: “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace”), written by Daniele Trevisani, published by Franco Angeli, Milan.

People don’t listen, they just wait for their turn to talk.
(Chuck Palahniuk)

Effective listening essentially has two meanings: 1) when listening has been useful to gather information and better understand the state of things, facts, and people; 2) when listening has been a pleasant, welcoming moment of relationship, in which we were able to act as an emotional container for the person.

When these two situations occur, we are experiencing effective listening. It is a quite rare situation. During a lifetime, no gold is as rare and as precious as someone who understands you.

Some questions can be useful:

  • Have you ever had the feeling that a person is not listening to you?
  • That they do not want to hear you, or that they cannot hear you at all?
  • Or have you ever felt that while you are talking, the other one is saying things halfway, not saying everything, holding something back? Out of willingness, sometimes, or out of incapacity, or out of fear, who knows?
  • Have you ever felt that persons you are talking, give a false idea of themselves, practising some form of “Impressions Management[1]” (creating an artificial image of themselves)?
  • Have you ever intended to talk to someone in order to deepen a certain theme or situation, while the person continues to escape, run away, avoid?
  • Have you ever felt the presence of a ‘core’ behind a person’s talk, of content – ideas, opinions, projects – which is only observed in transparency, but does not emerge, no matter how hard the person tries to explain himself?

If you have ever experienced even one of these situations, you had been practising ‘listening beyond words’, ‘heightened perception’ and approached or approached the topics of active listening and empathy.

Moreover, if there were interests at stake, you have experienced the importance of Conversational Leadership and the ability to direct the course of a conversation.

In your own life, you have also experienced, how rare active listening is, and that being listened to is quite rare, compared to normal life where everything is rushing, and there is no time for anything.

Rather than blaming others for what they do or do not do, for whoever wants to, the main goal of this book is offering tools to improve your listening, whether at work or in everyday life, and practice quality listening, active listening, and empathic listening.

The spirit of Virgil’s words, his invitation to always seek to understand, is the foundation that runs throughout this book: the underlying value that inspires us to practice active listening.

You can be tired of everything, but not of understanding. (Virgil)

Listening is perception, and perceiving for us is normal, physiological.

You did it hundreds and thousands of times, even just observing people in how they are dressed or how they walk – inevitably. You did it whether you wanted to or not. As perception has become very superficial, so has listening. This is what matters, ashaming because acute perception is a privileged path to truth.

Conversational leadership is the ability to restore the power of listening, to direct the conversation on the issues that interest us, or on the formats that we want to strategically activate (and listening is one of them).

Why is leadership important for listening skills? Because leadership is a voluntary act, and in this volume, listening is considered a voluntary act, decided by the listener, not a random act likely to happen without paying attention.

Human beings are endowed with natural listening skills, they use their hearing ability to understand sounds and words, because this is vital for their survival. If we did not know how to listen, neither to sounds nor to intentions (e.g., aggressive, hostile, or friendly), we would already be extinct.

It is believed that it takes courage to stand up and speak out, to have one is said. Well, very often it also takes courage to put our mind there, where we are now, to listen and look inside the soul and mind of a person.

There is also courage in listening.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
(Sir Winston Churchill)

1.1.             Listen to emotions. Emotions and communication

Emotions and communication are strongly related.

In addition to the verbal data (objects, subjects, verbs, adjectives, and other speech elements), we can always notice an emotional background in communication (the outer part of Plutchik’s wheel presented below). Sometimes this background becomes more intense, and we can almost ‘feel’ or ‘perceive’ better the emotional background than single words (area of intermediate emotions). When we enter the extreme emotions area, the intense ones are placed in the middle of the model, words become almost useless, because we are inundated by the emotion coming from the other, and this ends up overwhelming any content.

Plutchik’s Solid or Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions[2] is one of the best representations of how emotions work. We must keep in mind that we are communicators too, so this system also applies when we are the ones talking.

Picture 1 – The wheel of emotions (Plutchik)[3]

(graphic adopted from the original model, referring to bibliography, Plutchik 1980)

Inevitably, in a communicative exchange, we always have an underlying exchange of emotions.

Some people are particularly good and very quick at grasping their inner emotions, directing them, dominating them, making use of them as they wish. For example, speaking in public in front of thousands of people without feeling the slightest bit of anxiety.

On the other hand, other people fall victims of their emotions, may become victims of a love that is blind and deaf to all denials, and persevere in loving a person who does not love them, or who has never even shown any signs of love. They may be afraid even thinking about the idea of speaking in public and fear it like the worst of poisons.

Each communicative situation (COMSIT) owns specific meanings and emotional undertones. COMSITs are specific frames or communicative moments that can be distinguished from each other, such as a dialogue between friends, or an argument, or giving explanations, and a thousand other possibilities in relationships. In each COMSIT, different degrees of incommunicability and different types of emotions arise[4].

What can we do then? The way, the only real way, is “to train oneself to emotions”. This way, it sounds like ‘training to live’, something intangible. And it is precisely this training in the intangible that makes ‘training in emotions’ an exercise in great emotional intelligence. Such as a refined gym of Experiential Coaching, for those who design active training exercises on emotions.

This involves dealing with emotions in an ’emotional laboratory’ where they can be experienced and then ‘debriefed’ with the support of a trainer, coach, counsellor, or psychologist, depending on the type of intervention.

Working on corporate groups and not on clinical pathology situations, requires the Trainer and the Counsellor as main figures and reference. These “emotion workshops” must be engineered by using videos, images, letters, themed dialogues, and any kind of exercise involving emotions.

As Howell[5] said about our ‘unconscious emotional incompetence’, at first, we may find it all a bit silly or we may be ‘clumsy’, but then we will ‘climb’ this peak, step by step, until we reach a strong emotional competence.

This competence is necessary, the higher the career position is. Think of the need for emotional balance in a judge, or a surgeon, or a police officer, or in specific situations such as taking a penalty shot, or in difficult and extreme sports where emotions are everything, or almost everything.

Emotions are often mixed, a cross between different emotional states, as we see in this picture showing the primary, secondary, and tertiary links between emotion dyads in Plutchik’s model.

Picture 2 – Graph displaying the primary, secondary, and tertiary dyads on the Plutchik’s wheel of emotions[6]

Links between emotional state produce different emotions in different emotional state (Mixed Emotions) our everyday actual emotional truth.


[1] Schlenker, Barry R. (1980). Impression Management: The Self-Concept, Social Identity, and Interpersonal Relations. Monterey, California: Brooks/Cole.

[2] Plutchik , Robert (1980), Emotion: Theory, research, and experience: Vol. 1. Theories of emotion, 1, New York: Academic

Plutchik Robert (2002), Emotions and Life: Perspectives from Psychology, Biology, and Evolution, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

Plutchik Robert; R. Conte., Hope (1997), Circumplex Models of Personality and Emotions, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

[3] Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotion#/media/File:Plutchik-wheel.svg By Machine Elf 1735 – Own work, Public Domain, ttps://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13285286

[4] Trevisani, Daniele (1992). A Semiotic Models Approach to the Analysis of International/Intercultural Communication; published in “Proceedings of the International and Intercultural Communication Conference”, University of Miami, FL., USA, 19 – 21 May 1992.

[5] Howell, William S. (1982). The empathic communicator. University of Minnesota: Wadsworth Publishing Company

[6] Source: Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plutchik_Dyads.svg

Picture of the book: Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace

Article translated by dott. ssa Eleonora Brusamento Spinelli, CIELS Advanced Degree in Strategic Communication (“Laurea Magistrale in Comunicazione Strategica”), extracted with the author’s permission from the book “Active Listening and Empathy. The Secrets for Effective Communication” (original title: “Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace”), written by Daniele Trevisani, published by Franco Angeli, Milan.

Source:

-Dott. Trevisani D., Ascolto attivo ed empatia. I segreti di una comunicazione efficace, Franco Angeli Edizioni, 2016.

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Other available online resources

CIELS Institutional Website: https://www.ciels.it/

1.1. Application of the Four Distances Model

Parliamoci Chiaro: il modello delle quattro distanze per una comunicazione efficace e costruttiva

© Article translated by dott. ssa Eleonora Brusamento Spinelli, CIELS Advanced Degree in Strategic Communication (“Laurea Magistrale in Comunicazione Strategica”), extracted with the author’s permission from the book: Parliamoci Chiaro: il modello delle quattro distanze per una comunicazione efficace e costruttiva” (Let’s Speak Clearly: the four distances model for an effective and constructive communication) , written by Daniele Trevisani, published by Franco Angeli, Milan. www.studiotrevisani.it www.danieletrevisani.it www.comunicazioneaziendale.it

The Four Distances Model (4DM) can be useful:

  • for family communications;
  • for couple dynamics, between husband and wife, between life partners;
  • to improve helping relationships such as coaching, counseling, therapy, teaching, training;
  • in leadership and team direction;
  • to work on human relationships in challenging and confined environments such as work groups operating in extreme or hostile environments;
  • in communication for Workplace Safety;
  • for communication, communication that occurs between
  • people of different cultures, whether ethnic, religious, regional, and any other cultural factors;
  • to examine little-explored worlds of communication such as inter-species communication;
  • for human-machine communication and human-artificial intelligence (AI) communication;
  • to venture into territories that are unknown to human beeings, such as during long-term space missions and extended travel in confined environments;
  • to anticipate near futures, such as communication criticality occurring to human challenges, such as creating peace wherever there is conflict;
  • for highly concrete industrial collaboration projects between nations and between companies from different nations;
  • to perform real research and development, able to absorbe concepts and cultures also from very different disciplines, such as engineering, material sciences, anthropology, sociology, physics, economics, psychology, statistics, and many others, creating really effective working groups even if interdisciplinary and intercultural;
  • and in a not so distant dream… to establish communicative bases with still undiscovered cultures and civilizations, that maybe one day could manifest themselves, and with which every known form of communication could be useless or not working.

This is no more science fiction, since every day hundreds of habitable planets similar to Earth are discovered. A very significant percentage of these planets is located in the “habitable zone” or “Golden Lucky Zone” of the respective solar system, not too close to its sun (with the risk of excessive temperatures that make life impossible) or too far away (with the risk of temperatures so low as to make life impossible).

This fact provides forms of possible communication and contact on which the four distances can shed light. Even without looking for distant and remote worlds, our own Earth itself is a place where people – homo sapiens with homo sapiens – do not understand each other, they kill each other apparently for nothing, and conflicts break out in a devastating way, between ethnic groups, religious groups, family conflicts, couple conflicts, between groups of opposite supportes, between nations, and between gangs in the same city, therefore recognizing and fighting incommunicability really is a fundamental mission.

“Concord begets beauty and order in things. Conversely, from perpetual strife there must arise disorder accompanied by bestial cruelty.”

Pope Leo XIII

Concerning Business field, simply as a matter of fact, there will be – if incommunicability prevails – no sales, no business, no understanding between seller and customer, no realisation of anything at all. At listening level, none of the real, strong needs of customers and consumers is understood.

The possible useful messages and important information do not pass the communication barrier and customers remain dissatisfied, or less satisfied than they could be. Products – moreover – badly designed, or worse than they could be if only there was good communication with customers, especially in the ability to listen to them and involve them in research and development (R&D).

In a family background, paradoxically, the more time spent next to a person, the more it seems to come to the fatal conclusion not to really know that person next to a stranger. Obviously, the weaker ones will pay the price, while others will think they are “putting on an emotional armour”, but this way many positive development will become impossible for the future.

The 4 Distances model can examinate this process, to helps understand that distances are not “static” but rather dynamic. Distances change, evolve, sometimes over years, sometimes in fractions of a second (especially for mood and emotional states), sometimes they “involute”, worsening as time makes us discover new things about each other and stress puts our relationship to the test, forcing us to the ropes and bringing out parts of the personality that otherwise would not come out.

“The Progress, the evolution of a race is not measured in technological or scientific terms, it is measured by the ability to understand that there are others living in this world.”

Marco Trogi

People change, evolve, their identities, values, emotions, even their bodies, are subject to change, affecting the quality of communication.

In all these situations, all we need at first is a model, something to help us orient ourselves. Even if there is no perfect model, a model or theorem always fulfils an indispensable task: to start compaing about ‘something’ rather than nothing but a blank page.

Discussing about a model is therefore always productive.

Many anthropologists and psychologists have expressed concepts that “hide” models, they explained their variables but they have never produced a real operational, graphic, visual, comprehensible scheme. An operating scheme is much better when presented in a visual form – to provide us a quicker inspiration for the analysis of incommunicability.

Why schemes? Because managers and practitioners need operational models, their professional backgrounds have accustomed us to understand them, and a schema also offers us real “labels”, words, usable concepts, comprehensible language, and the same applies to people who operate as promoters of helping relationships (educators, counsellors, therapists).

The 4 Distances model has been developed for this purpose. It was first presented by me at a scientific conference in Miami during the 9th International and Intercultural Communication Conference[1]. Since that first presentation and now, the model has undergone considerable evolution and improvement, and continues to change as new areas of research, enrichments, clarifications and comparisons with other sciences are included.

This model is sufficiently mature to be disseminated to the public, and many years of application in the field of counselling and training of UN Blue Helmets, managers, coaches and counsellors, and Special Forces and leaders, have verified its practical usefulness. It is therefore useful evolving the communication of people and managers, and for anyone who finds that good communication and collaboration is a vital necessity.

“Through the evolutionary process, those who are able to engage in social cooperation of various sorts do better in survival and reproduction.”

Robert Nozick

_________________

[1] See Trevisani, 1992, in bibliography

© Article translated by dott. ssa Eleonora Brusamento Spinelli, CIELS Advanced Degree in Strategic Communication (“Laurea Magistrale in Comunicazione Strategica”), extracted with the author’s permission from the book: Parliamoci Chiaro: il modello delle quattro distanze per una comunicazione efficace e costruttiva” (Let’s Speak Clearly: the four distances model for an effective and constructive communication) , written by Daniele Trevisani, published by Franco Angeli, Milan. www.studiotrevisani.it www.danieletrevisani.it www.comunicazioneaziendale.it

Source:

-Dott. Trevisani D., Parliamoci Chiaro: il modello delle quattro distanze per una comunicazione efficace e costruttiva, Gribaudo, 2019

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intercultural negotiation working communication

The birth of incommunicability as an expressive and empathic block

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Consulting Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available for qualified Publishers wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab. If you are interested in publishing or Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

Recognizing and blocking cognitive stiffening

The problem of incommunicability has social origins. In the full development of their expressiveness, children and adolescents learn that to be honest, problems arise, and that dedicating time to others is a waste of resources. Stereotypes are born, pre-packaged rules, fluid mental schemes become rigid and are consolidated in the form of beliefs and dogmas. While formal educational systems support the importance of expressiveness and communication, real educational behaviors instead teach exactly the opposite: to close oneself, to defend oneself, not to let go, to be suspicious, not to make people understand how one feels “otherwise take advantage “.

Companies also teach this (basic rule of “do not trust”) handed down from the experience of the “elderly” of the company to young people. In fact, it happens that in the reality of the company, the honesty of others is absolutely not to be taken for granted, not even the intentions, and a permanent alert condition is created, a climate of suspicion that permeates every start of a relationship and every negotiation. This climate has solid foundations in reality and is not a mere construction.

However, this condition of “alert” must become a conscious tactical choice and not a constant state fixed a priori, an “immovable cast” or cognitive block that prevents a confrontation. Only from an open confrontation and from real behavioral tests it will be possible to understand if the other party has serious intentions or is reliable. Many managers, on the other hand, are in an irremovable plaster of a condition of closure and rigidity (cognitive stiffening) and this prevents them from negotiating effectively. Little by little, the blocking of external expressions becomes the inability to recognize what is happening inside. At the best of his listening and expression abilities, the child knows how to express himself with his whole body, he knows how to externalize, he understands moods even without the need for words.

Having become an adult and a manager, this child transforms – after years of corporate life – into a mummified monolith, selfish, closed, centered only on himself, now unable to understand relational dynamics, sometimes even elementary and banal. We note this in a purchase negotiation, when a buyer cannot understand the difference between buying a “piece of goods” or “finding a serious partner”, a supplier of professionalism even before “pieces”. The reality is full of people who cannot explain their need (if you buy) or their value (if you sell). In these conditions, the plastered monolith finds himself doing business, negotiating, having to communicate, express himself, sometimes he even has to understand others (difficult task) and listen (almost impossible task), and he can’t. As we can easily imagine, he will have problems, and the companies he works for will have problems too.

And if he is also a mother or a father, he will also bring these difficulties within the family, handing down a trans-generational psychic discomfort towards his children. There is therefore a meta-goal for each person and group: the unblocking of cognitive rigidity. It is essential to work to recognize one’s own stereotypes and beliefs (or, as we will address in the volume on advanced techniques, one’s “cognitive prototypes”), to act actively to understand them, to identify one’s own states of incommunicability, to commit oneself to eliminate or reduce it, not to wait until communication improves passively or “by a miracle”, but commit yourself personally, as an absolute priority.

Principle 3 – Breaking of incommunicability as a meta-objective Successful communication depends on:

  • from the awareness of the intercultural dimension of communication;
  • the degree of commitment and awareness of both members of communication to reduce the negative effects of incommunicability.

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or in Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

For further information see: